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Epigraphs: The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight, Part VII, Chapter 23

The vote is the emblem of your equality. This sentence by Carrie Chapman Catt is the epigraph for The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight, Part VII, Chapter 23, Justice Bell: August-September 1920

By August it was clear—the fight for the thirty-sixth state was down to North Carolina and Tennessee. On August 17 ratification by North Carolina legislators seemed possible, until the floor leader of the opposition made a deft move and got a resolution passed that deferred action until a regular meeting of the legislature in 1921. TENNESSEE SLENDER THREAD UPON WHICH SUFFRAGE HOPES HANG, warned a Chattanooga newspaper.

In Tennessee the Senate had already ratified the amendment. The House was scheduled to vote on Aug. 18.  Abby Crawford Milton remembered that day, as “the most exciting and dramatic session ever held in the House.”

At 10:30 a.m., Speaker Seth Walker, an anti-ratificationist, banged his gavel to open the session, and soon

moved to table the ratification resolution, a tactic to indefinitely suspend consideration. Harry Burn, who wore an anti-ratification red rose, vote “yea.” Banks Turner’s vote got lost in the din, although it appeared to some that he voted “nay.” The clerk began the second roll call. Again Burn voted “yea.” As the clerk continued through the alphabet, Seth Walker sat down beside Banks Turner, forcefully draped his arm over his shoulder, and urgently whispered in his ear. Suddenly, Turner shook off Walker’s arm, jumped to his feet, and shouted out his vote—”nay,” making the final tally a tie—48 to 48. The motion was defeated. The ratification resolution was still alive. Cheers and shouts resounded again and again from the pro-suffrage yellow rose side of the gallery.


The clerk started the roll call for the vote on ratification. Harry Burn, who had recently received a letter from his mother Febb Ensminger Burn, telling him to “be a good boy” and help Mrs. Catt with her “Rats,” voted “aye.” As did Banks Turner. The federal woman suffrage amendment was approved by a majority of 2: 49 to 47—victory, at last! 

On August 26, 1920, the U.S. Secretary of State signed the Proclamation of the Nineteenth Amendment. EQUAL SUFFRAGE  IS LAW OF THE LAND, proclaimed a front-page headline in a Pensacola, Florida, newspaper.  An elaborated ceremony was held in Independence Square in Philadelphia,

on September 25. The one-ton Justice Bell that Katherine Wentworth Ruschenberger had commissioned in 1915, was rung by her niece forty-eight times, once for each state. Earlier in September, Carrie Chapman Catt had written in an article addressed to new women voters: “The vote is the emblem of your equality, women of America, the guaranty of your liberty . . . . Prize it!”

Top images: Frankie J. Pierce, founder of the Nashville Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. In May 1920, at a convention held in the Tennessee Capitol, she addressed an audience of all-white women, telling them “We are interested in the same moral uplift of the community in which we live as you are . . . .We are asking only one thing—a square deal. Middle right image: Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument, Centennial Park, Nashville, unveiled August 26, 2016. The five women, represented by seven-foot tall bronze statues are: Frankie Pierce back left, Sue Shelton White, back center; Abby Crawford Milton, back right; Carrie Chapman Catt, front left; Anne Dallas Dudley, front right. Middle left image: Burn Memorial by Alan LeQuire representing Febb Burn and her son Harry Burn, Knoxville, unveiled 2018. Bottom image: the original Justice Bell, Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge National Park. (Click on image to enlarge.)

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